An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Newbridge, County Kildare
Roll number: 61680T
Date of inspection: 05 November 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Newbridge College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Irish and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, the deputy principal and the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
In Newbridge College good provision is made for Irish and the subject is well supported. There are nine teachers of Irish all of whom have Irish to degree level and their level of oral proficiency to teach Irish is satisfactory in almost all cases. Senior management should include both language competence and teaching experience in the subject when allocating classes to teachers and should take advantage of the available support services when necessary. The school operates an induction programme for new teachers. As part of this process a member of the subject department provides mentoring support and the principal observes some of the classes of the new teacher. This is to be commended as it illustrates that management recognises its role in instructional leadership. Every effort is made to provide teachers with continuity of classes and to offer them, in turn, opportunities to teach all the curricular programmes at the different levels. This is good practice and supports the professional development of teachers through extending their experience of the syllabuses and the different courses to the level of the certificate examinations.
Classes in first year are of mixed ability and management is commended for these arrangements. Students in the other year groups are assigned to streamed classes. In the case of Transition Year (TY) this arrangement is not in keeping with the philosophy of the programme and should be reviewed.
An analysis of the school timetable identifies some difficulties which show that timetabling arrangements are not as supportive of teaching and learning as could be the case. In general the amount of instruction time provided per week is less than the minimum of twenty eight hours required under CL M28/95. The timetable also shows a great variation in the length of class periods in any one day. Class periods are between thirty four and forty minutes with one period of forty eight minutes in the course of the week. In addition, the college campus is spread out which sets a challenge for everyone with regard to punctuality as they move between classes and buildings. These factors have implications for the provision of satisfactory time for the subject. The amount of time allocated to the Leaving Certificate established is satisfactory in so far as five periods of Irish are provided for classes per week. Two periods per week are allocated to Irish in TY. This allocation is very low in the national context and management should provide an additional period or consider the possibilities of providing a module or of teaching other elements of the programme through Irish. In addition another period must be added to the current provision in junior cycle, in one year at least, and especially for those students undertaking higher level. The allocation of class periods during the week is satisfactory as it ensures that students have regular contact with the language. In order to deal with the timetabling issues it is recommended that management reviews how the timetable is organised beginning with fulfilling the requirements of CL M28/95. The issue of the variation in the length of class periods has already been brought to the attention of school management in the subject inspection report on English in 2008.
Teachers of Irish undertake their work with enthusiasm and are committed to promoting the language and to creating a broad, positive learning experience for students. As part of this approach, teachers place particular emphasis on the use of Irish outside the classroom and on making Irish more visible in the school environment. The developments made in this regard are commended. A comprehensive programme of events is organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week), students are brought to see plays, to Coláiste Uisce and school management offers two half scholarships to support students to attend summer colleges in the Gaeltacht. Special commendation is due to teachers for encouraging students and enabling them to compete in debating competitions locally and nationally. Irish is also one of the subjects included in the school’s scholarship competition which adds to the status of the subject on the curriculum.
Management is very supportive of teacher professional development and provides funding for various courses and facilitates staff participation in activities offered by the Second Level Support Service for Irish. In order to support the new emphasis on placing first year students in mixed-ability classes, it is recommended that staff needs regarding differentiation be included in the professional development programme for teachers.
It was reported that seven percent of all students enrolled in the school have an exemption from the study of Irish. This figure is below the national average. Of these students ninety percent have been identified as having special educational needs. In responding to these needs management makes every effort to timetable resource or learning support classes concurrently with Irish classes. This arrangement is commended.
School management and teachers are to be commended on the very good provision of resources and facilities available for teaching and learning Irish. These include resources in information and communications technology (ICT) in every classroom and the school library where reading materials in Irish are available for students. In addition, teachers are allocated designated classrooms, an arrangement which enables them to create dedicated spaces to support the language and the culture.
The role of co-ordinator of Irish is incorporated in a post of responsibility. In keeping with best practice the duties of the co-ordinator are clearly set out. The work of the department is shared on a partnership basis taking advantage of the talents and interests of the members in the interest of promoting the language as part of the school curriculum. Regular meetings of Irish teachers are held during the school year and minutes are recorded. This is good practice. An extract from the minutes of one of these meetings illustrates the good practice of sharing among all team members what was learned by teachers at a workshop attended.
Subject plans of the individual teachers were of a good standard. Extra documentation relating to the subject was also available. These should be collated in one document as a subject plan and the inclusion of an index would be helpful. Guidelines are available at www.sdpi.ie. However, not all the plans were written in Irish and they should be. The subject department has set out good standard aims and objectives for Irish as part of the school curriculum. Teachers had agreed topics to be covered with students in mixed-ability classes in first year. It was reported that a similar planning approach was adopted in the last school-year in the case of some fifth-year classes which were taking the subject at the same level. Collaborative planning is good practice and provides an excellent opportunity for teachers to agree targets and to share best practice. There is still scope for the team to further enhance their collaborative planning for implementing the syllabuses.
Plans were devised for each term, an approach which is commended. The majority of these plans emphasised the four principal language skills and in certain cases great importance was placed on writing skills, on grammar and, in one particular case, on revision from a very early stage in third year. However, some of the plans showed, for example the second and third year plans, that there was no planning for the development of the students’ oral proficiency. It is recommended that appropriate attention be given within the planning process to the development of the four main language skills in each year from the beginning of first year onwards. In addition, revision should not be over emphasised at too early a stage in third year. It was evident in a minority of plans that attention was being paid to the development of student cultural awareness through the use of song, poetry, and aspects of language history outside of content included in course syllabuses. There is facility for greater development of this aspect of the subject especially in the early years of junior cycle. Aspects of individual planning for the TY showed creativity and innovation. These should be collated as a full plan for Irish in TY and reviewed as necessary.
When plans are being reviewed it is recommended that the learning outcomes expected at the different stages of the various levels and year groups be exploited in order to direct the development of planning for learning. These should be based on the language functions stated in the syllabuses and appropriate recognition should be given to the different language skills in their development. In achieving this, and in keeping with some of the work observed, it is recommended that particular emphasis be placed on language syntax. Learning outcomes should be used as assessment criteria and should be shared with the students. It is also recommended that the subject plan contain a description of the methodologies and the strategies to be used in order to achieve these learning outcomes. Included in these should be the modes of assessment to be employed to assess students’ oral proficiency in Irish.
In order to share information and experience of good practice it is recommended that methodology and teaching and learning strategies be placed on the agenda of meetings from time to time and especially when new teachers are introduced into the department or when teachers return to teaching Irish. For example, an opportunity such as this could be used to discuss effective methods of differentiating content in order to respond to the differing abilities and experiences of learning Irish of the students, especially within mixed-ability classes. It would also provide an excellent opportunity for the teachers of Irish to draw on the work already achieved by the French department in this regard, as was evident in a document from that department which was included among the documents presented by the Irish department. As a part of this collaboration teachers should make arrangements to visit and observe each other’s classes.
In order to assist planning for the development and maintenance of facilities and resources already available in the school for teaching and learning in the subject, it is recommended that a list be compiled. It would be desirable to have lists such as these, subject plans and materials such as sample lessons stored electronically to facilitate access for all members of the department. It is recommended that monitoring and review activities be noted in the planning documentation for instance after class and house examinations, and ‘mock’ state examinations.
Planning and preparation for most of the classes observed was of very good quality. In almost every case individual plans were provided. In certain cases it was evident that a great deal of thought had been given to the development of students’ ability to use the language to communicate effectively. Lessons based on the integration of language skills and where the teachers had prepared work sheets adapting the materials for their classes, are particularly commended. In the course of planning it is recommended, as was done in almost every class, that it is ensured that effective use is made of the class contact time provided for the benefit of student learning and that class activities are not restricted by any one textbook and the tasks contained in it.
Very good quality teaching and learning in Irish was evident in most of the lessons observed. There was good continuity with previous lessons and the work was very well structured in the vast majority of classes. The aim of the lesson was shared with the students in most cases. In keeping with recommendations already made concerning planning, it is recommended that the language used when sharing the expected learning outcomes with students would express what they would be able to do at the end of class. This would enable students to develop their understanding of their own learning and of the links between the different aspects of the courses. Homework was corrected at the beginning of all lessons and particular commendation is due for example, to the creative way in which students were prompted in Irish when the teacher was checking that the previously assigned vocabulary had been learned.
The good practice of using a variety of appropriate teaching methodologies and strategies was evident in most classes. Tasks were used to support the integration of the development of the language skills and the different aspects of the courses. In keeping with best practice, students were given clear instructions in most cases and a timeframe was set for tasks. However, teachers should be cognisant of the opportunities created by tasks for differentiated learning in the content, especially where there is variation in student ability and learning experiences in Irish. In certain cases very good discussion took place in preparation for written tasks, an approach which gave students an opportunity to express themselves in Irish. A very good example of the use of a board game to help consolidate learning was also observed. When planning tasks for class, care must be taken to ensure that these are not tasks that students can easily complete individually as homework. In some lessons very effective use was made of the facilities available to support discussion and help students recall prior learning. Particular commendation is due to the example observed where the internet and musical instruments were used to develop students’ cultural awareness.
In all the classes observed grammar was taught in a manner that was tailored to the students concerned and this is to be commended. Particular commendation is due in the small number of cases where student attention was drawn to patterns, language syntax and use of the copula. These instances are also to be commended because they created plenty of opportunities for students to practise what they were learning through the use of the different language skills. This work was undertaken in a very imaginative way and it was evident that the students were enjoying the work and that their understanding and confidence were being developed. Special commendation is also due to teachers where, through the homework and the class tasks assigned, opportunity was created for students to compose questions and address them to one another. In a few cases, to support students in their development as independent learners, they were asked to make use of the dictionaries as was necessary. This is commended.
In the lessons observed there was variation in the level of the use of Irish. Even though Irish was used as the medium of teaching and communication in the classes it was clear from the tendency to switch to English that was evident in certain classes that English is also in regular use in lessons. This was particularly apparent in cases where students translated sentences or questions they were reading and vocabulary into English without any prompting from the teacher. Effective strategies to avoid translation were observed in some cases. For example, the content was linked to the students own experience and questions were amended as appropriate and were focussed on the students and on their own experience. It is acknowledged that there is a role for English in the teaching of certain aspects of grammar. That aside, teachers must ensure that Irish is the language of communication in class. As part of students’ language awareness, it is recommended that more attention be paid to phonetics, especially in the early years of the junior cycle. The listening and reading texts used in class should be used to support this work. The language used in a small amount of the material presented to students in a minority of classes was not accurate. Teachers must always ensure that the language being used with students is correct.
Some excellent examples of questioning were observed, especially when questions were used to set challenges for students of different levels of proficiency. The good practice of ensuring balance between questions directed at students individually and at the group in general is to be commended as this strategy ensures that the same students are not always answering.
A cooperative atmosphere obtained in most classes and students received high levels of praise in all the lessons. Students were active in their learning and were making very good progress in most of the lessons observed.
In a small number of cases very clever use was made of the space in the classroom to arrange the tables and chairs in a manner which allowed students to sit in groups of up to eight. This arrangement facilitated the creation of a realistic setting for the tasks which were based on discussion, games and group work.
The Irish department implements the school’s homework policy. This is a high standard policy which details the responsibilities of all partners in its implementation and gives ample scope to base homework on the needs of the different language skills.
An appropriate range of assessment modes is used, which includes student progress in all the skills to be developed in the sixth year classes. In the case of the other year groups, assessment is carried out only on listening, reading and writing skills and on their knowledge of literature as appropriate. It is recommended that a certain percentage of marks be awarded in the house examinations for spoken Irish in the case of every year group. This would ensure that the assessment practices correspond more closely to the aims and objectives of the syllabuses.
It was evident during lessons and from student copybooks and folders inspected that homework is regularly assigned and corrected and that class examinations are held regularly. The Irish department is highly commended for having introduced the principles of assessment for learning to their approach to the correction of students’ work. Special commendation is due in the instances where notes have been made on the student work praising the efforts and giving direction on how the work could be improved.
The arrangement whereby a common examination will be set for first year students at the end of the school year is commended. This reflects the planning undertaken for the year group. Common examinations should also be set at Christmas and at other stages as appropriate. This would ensure a clearer picture of student learning and progress in the different classes throughout the year. In addition, it is also recommended that this practice be extended and that the experiences from last year, already referred to, be further developed. In this regard marking schemes should be agreed and scripts could be exchanged. Examples of past house examination papers were provided and it is recommended that the number of translation tasks included be reduced and that teachers seek other ways of ensuring that Irish is used in achieving the same assessment objectives.
Teachers maintain very good records of student achievement during the school year and these are reported in formal school reports and in the student diaries. In collaboration with management, teachers carry out an analysis of student achievement in the certificate examinations. Student participation and achievement rates at the highest levels in the certificate examinations are very good.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal and the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, April 2010